U.K. box office: Brits say yes to ‘Yes Man’

Just a note for newcomers to the site: there’s a reason why you’re not seeing last weekend’s box office numbers for the U.K. here until the day the new weekend is starting. The actual numbers for the overall British box office (which, as an aside, also includes the Republic of Ireland) are far less readily available then the North American numbers. I’ve found only one source for them that goes beyond the top ten films and — more importantly — is reported in pounds, not dollars. That source is the UK Film Council, and they don’t release those numbers until late Wednesday, New York time, which is usually into Thursday, U.K. time. There simply isn’t the kind of urgency to get those numbers out like we see in the U.S.

(On a related note, my decision to wait till late Monday to report on the North American box office was a response to the ridiculousness of the urgency with which those numbers get reported in the American entertainment press. On Sunday everyone leaps on the weekend estimates, but those numbers often get revised — almost always downward — when the actual numbers come in on Monday. I’m not interested in racing to be first to get those numbers out — I couldn’t be first even if I wanted to, since I’m relying on the reporting of others anyway. I’m more interested in the real numbers over the imaginary ones.)

Anyway, onto the New Year’s weekend box-office rundown for the U.K.:
1. Yes Man: £2.2 million (2nd week; drops 5%)
2. Bedtime Stories: £1.9 million (2nd week; up 20%)
3. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: £1.7 million (5th week; up 40%)
4. Australia: £1.5 million (2nd week; up 17%)
5. Twilight: £1.4 million (3rd week; up 19%)

(actual numbers, not estimates)

I normally stop reporting how many weeks a film has been open and what percentage change in takings it saw after the first month, when most of the money a top-five movie will make will have been made. But I had to note that in its fifth weekend, Madagascar 2 was up 40 percent over Christmas weekend. In fact, four of the top five were up substantially, and Yes Man’s drop was almost negligible. Nothing like that happened in the U.S. over New Year’s weekend, where the top five enjoyed smaller than typical drops… but they were still drops.

Outside the top five, other films were up strongly too: Inkheart was up 13 percent, and The Tale of Despereaux was up 28 percent. It’s kinda notable, too, that over a weekend during which almost every movie that’s been playing for less than two months was up dramatically, poor The Day the Earth Stood Still took a drop of 17 percent. Ouch.

Four Christmases looks to have finally played itself out in the U.K, though it hung on powerfully for a month and a half. It was down 65 percent this past weekend, but it has now passed £10 million, which is just about proportional to the $118 million it’s earned in North America.

Ooo, and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, which just opened this weekend in the U.K. at 102 cinemas, took in a paltry £41,305, for a pathetic per-screen average of £405. (It opened to a more respectable $10 million in North America.) Looks like those pants don’t travel too far.

Following the trend I’ve been seeing, it was the No. 1 film, Yes Man, that had the best per-screen of the weekend: £5,124 at each of 434 cinemas.

[numbers via UK Film Council]

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Sat, Jan 10, 2009 5:38am

In the UK, 25 December, 26 December and 1 January (or the weekdays most immediately following them) are statutory holidays – i.e. almost everyone will not be at work on those days. Since businesses will only be open for a 3-day week between those days, many of them close down completely (and other people save some annual leave to take that time off). As I understand it, in the USA you don’t have 26 December as a holiday, so perhaps there’s more of a sense of two separate events rather than one big one? That would seem likely to make a difference to film viewing patterns.

Der Bruno Stroszek
Der Bruno Stroszek
Sat, Jan 10, 2009 6:18am

There’s something weird on the UK per-screen averages too: City of Ember seems to be back in the charts for some reason. I wonder what brought that on? Is there a seasonal connection?

Paul Hayes
Paul Hayes
Sat, Jan 10, 2009 9:06am

I did hear once that in some parts of the US it’s actually regarded as traditional for families to all go and see films together on Christmas Day, which seems weird from a UK perspective, but perhaps I was misinformed.

Sat, Jan 10, 2009 12:17pm

I wonder if the US having Thanksgiving as major holiday for families to get together makes a difference.

In the UK (well, in England – possibly also Scotland) we have the last Monday in August as a public holiday and then we have to wait until 25 & 26 December for the next one. It is traditional to get together with the extended family then, have a big Christmas lunch with all the trimmings, and then flop down to watch some decent telly (we hope!) Everywhere is shut, there is virtually no public transport and, as Paul says, going to see a film on Christmas Day would be very odd. I’m not even sure if the cinemas would be open then.

The majority of people finish work on Christmas eve, midday, and return on January 2, using public holidays and annual leave to cover the time. Those in retail, however, have to deal with the main sales time of the year, with some ridiculously early starts. I think the NEXT sale opened at 5 am this year!

Sat, Jan 10, 2009 12:39pm

This Christmas Day, people were watching Doctor Who and Wallace and Gromit on BBC1, not leaving many available to go out to the pictures. The final viewing figures were:


2 DOCTOR WHO (Thu, BBC One) 13.10m



W&G also got very good figures (6m?) for the New Year’s Day repeat but the official ones aren’t available yet.

Sat, Jan 10, 2009 4:28pm

The majority of people finish work on Christmas eve, midday, and return on January 2, using public holidays and annual leave to cover the time.

Oh, that really is the civilized way to do things. In many regards — particularly when it comes to the number of holidays and vacation days most Americans get — we really aren’t.

Most Americans will get Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off… and that’s it. Some office situations (ie, not retail) will do half a day on Christmas Eve and/or New Year’s Eve (where my father works, he can choose to take half a day on either Eve, but not on both). The days between the holidays are regular workdays in most places, and most Americans do not get anywhere near enough vacation/personal time to take off between the holidays, not if they want to have a meaningful vacation at another time of the year. (Two weeks or ten workdays is about standard for those Americans who get any paid vacation, with more time only for those who have extreme seniority at a job. My dad, for instance, has worked for the same company for close to 50 years, and he gets, I think, six weeks vacation.)

New Year’s Day is a federal holiday here but not considered a major holiday by most people, and so stores are open, so many retail workers would not get that day off.

And yes, Christmas Day is a big day for moviegoing here… but so is Thanksgiving Day. The idea seems to be that there’s nothing else to do after dinner, so it’s off to the movies. Of course, we don’t have the social tradition and outlet of the local pub — not that moviegoing is social in the same way — but would those of you in the U.K. consider it odd to head down the pub for an hour or two on Christmas night?

Sat, Jan 10, 2009 4:44pm

would those of you in the U.K. consider it odd to head down the pub for an hour or two on Christmas night?

Yes. It’s very unusual (or was, until the last few years) for any business to be open on Christmas Day at all. Pubs would have been about the only exception to that, but even they wouldn’t expect to do a lot of business.

Christmas Day in the UK is traditionally spent with the immediate family at home; in recent years that’s been extended to adults’ parents and such like, though in the past they’d more probably have been visited on Boxing Day. In practice there’s a Christmas Dinner an hour or two later than the usual lunchtime (not quite the same emphasis on excess as we see reported for Thanksgiving, but certainly a large meal), the Queen’s Speech on radio or television, then people sit down in front of a film on television (or snooze, or children play with presents). When I was doing this I was in a household where Church in the morning was considered obligatory; I don’t know what non-churchgoers are held to do. (I understand some American churches actually closed on Christmas Day this year; we’d find that extremely bizarre, since Christmas is the single biggest day for non-regulars to turn up at church.)

Sat, Jan 10, 2009 8:25pm

I would be stunned to hear of an American church that was closed on Christmas Day. I’ve never heard of such a thing.

Sun, Jan 11, 2009 4:55am

It happened in 2005 when Christmas Day was also a Sunday: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-12-06-christmas-churches_x.htm

Anyway, the main point is that I think most people in the UK would still consider it fairly unlikely that a cinema would be operating on Christmas Day – it probably does happen now, but one wouldn’t expect it so one wouldn’t go looking. There’d be films on television during the afternoon (normally they’re only in the evenings) – remembering of course that lots of people don’t see the need for any sort of cable or satellite television, though I’m told that trial subscriptions go up over Christmas and then get cancelled later.

Tue, Jan 13, 2009 7:59am

Ooo, and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, which just opened this weekend in the U.K. at 102 cinemas, took in a paltry £41,305, for a pathetic per-screen average of £405. (It opened to a more respectable $10 million in North America.) Looks like those pants don’t travel too far.

It has a pretty unappealling title in Brit-speak. “Pants” translates as underwear, and more particularly male underwear.